Preserve & Prosper | Letters | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Preserve & Prosper 

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I read with great interest, as I do all matters pertaining to historic preservation in Salt Lake City, Ted McDonough’s recent article in City Weekly, “Property Rights and Wrongs” [April 23]. I have a graduate degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University, and I worked in the Salt Lake City Planning Division for almost 15 years as the planner who administered the historic preservation program and ordinance.

Salt Lake City adopted its initial historic preservation ordinance in 1976, updating it in 1978, and revising it yet again as part of the citywide zoning rewrite in 1995. Thus, for over 30 years, Salt Lake City has “challenged residents’ view of property rights.” The ordinance and related design guidelines (adopted by the City Council in 1999) regulate exterior alterations, new construction and demolition on almost 5,000 properties in the six locally designated historic districts and 170 individual sites in Salt Lake City. For some property owners, this presents an onerous burden.

Others believe that it protects what they value in their neighborhood. McDonough presents the proposed historic preservation plan as a document that will “mark a major shift in how the city looks at older buildings.” But, in fact, the plan only compiles practices that have been administered in the city for decades and presents goals and best practices that the Planning Division has wanted to carry out all along. If the plan is adopted, it will clarify, not diminish, the public’s understanding of the city’s goals for historic preservation, making a more level playing field for both developers and neighborhood groups.

I vehemently disagree with Anna Grace Sperry that preservationists don’t have “skin in the game.” I was fortunate to work with the state’s best architects, contractors, historians and housing specialists who served on the Historic Landmark Commission. They were cognizant of the expenses imposed by regulations and accordingly crafted preservation policy to allow for flexibility for individual households while upholding the tenets of sound preservation principles. The “crumbling buildings” that Sperry refers to are an apt description of the homes in the Marmalade neighborhood 30 years ago, but today, homes in Marmalade and throughout Capitol Hill are very much sought after.

The point of a historic preservation ordinance, and indeed a zoning code is to “tell people what they can or can’t do with their own property.” Citizens have the right to petition the city to change the zoning code requirements or de-list historic districts if they so desire.

Elizabeth Giraud, AICP
Salt Lake City

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